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B.C. naturopaths look to prescribe safer supply, reiterate call to province

Naturopathic doctors say they’re ‘ready’ to fight the toxic drug crisis, but waiting on B.C.’s approval
The BC Naturopathic Doctors Association is asking the provincial government to allow practitioners to prescribe safer supply and opioid agonist treatment in B.C. (Pixabay)

Hundreds of naturopathic doctors in B.C. have enrolled in a training program on treating opioid addiction, as they wait to hear back from the province on their request to prescribe safer supply.

The BC Naturopathic Doctors Association, a voluntary professional association, wrote to Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside in November 2022, asking for the authority to prescribe safer supply medications and opioid agonist treatment to patients addicted to drugs.

The association reiterated its call on Thursday (Feb. 15).

“As primary care professionals, we are ready, we are available, and we have an excellent safety record when it comes to prescribing. We are asking the provincial government to remove the barriers that prevent us from helping patients in need,” association president Vanessa Lindsay said in a statement.

She pointed out that B.C. has a serious shortage of health-care workers who can prescribe pharmaceutical drugs to people who will otherwise be purchasing their supply from an unregulated and toxic market.

A November 2023 report by the BC Coroners Service death review panel estimated that 225,000 British Columbians use unregulated drugs. Of those, 115,000 have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder, but just 4,331 are accessing safer supply.

Both that report and a review of B.C.’s safer supply program, commissioned by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and released on Feb. 1, point to pharmaceutical alternatives as one of the primary tools capable of saving lives as the toxic drug crisis continues to worsen.

READ ALSO: B.C. top doctor calls for more kinds of safe drugs to be available to those in need

READ ALSO: B.C. rejects experts call for non-prescription access to safer drug supply

Last year, 2,511 people died from toxic drugs in B.C.

Lindsay said Thursday that naturopathic doctors want to be part of the response.

“BCND hopes the provincial government agrees and provides us with an opportunity to fully utilize our skills and training before this crisis claims even more lives.”

B.C. naturopaths have been allowed to prescribe certain drugs since 2009 and the association says more than 85 per cent of its 700 licensed practitioners have been doing so since then. Lindsay argued that they are already experienced in this type of work and could easily transition to prescribing safer supply as well.

She said 250 of their members have signed up for the BC Centre for Substance Use’s provincial opioid addiction treatment support program. The program is intended to train health-care workers to diagnose someone with opioid use disorder, help create a care plan for them and be able to write prescriptions for them.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions directed Black Press Media to the Ministry of Health for comment, which said Health Canada has control over who can prescribe opioid agonist treatment. B.C.’s health ministry said Health Canada has indicated to them that it will only consider expanding which health professions can prescribe safer supply if other provinces propose the same.

About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media after starting as a community reporter in Greater Victoria.
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